This is the longest blog I’ve ever written. See if you can make it to the end….; -)
A few days ago I read a series of tweets that made me really quite cross.
So that’s nice.
Being the generous person that I am, I shall now share my crossness with you, so that we can be cross together. It’ll be like our own little cross party convention. Only without the politics. Or most normal conventions.
So, not like a cross party convention at all, really. Just a rant, and then something nice.
I shan’t repeat the actual tweets, or name the person who wrote them (because, quite frankly, I’m terrified of entering into some author-author gladiatorial word-combat which I shall lose by some considerable margin) but it was basically saying how despicable and sphincter-clenching the practice of re-Tweeting good reviews or compliments about one’s books is.
(If you don’t use Twitter, this may confuse you. All I can suggest is that you get on there pronto, and learn…it’s a fun party.)
What raised my authorish hackles was not only this stinging, condescending comment about people who creepily share their good news with all their followers; it was my reaction to it.
Yeah, I thought. God, that’s SO sphincter-clenching. Mine is clenching itself into a little puckery kiss right now.
How pathetic those crawling people are, to parp their feeble little trumpets to all their followers. How desperate can they BE – telling everyone that someone out there actually LIKED their book, like some kind of free, public, vomit-inducing piece of self love?
It’s career masturbation, and nobody needs that rammed down their throats.
But then I relaxed my sphincter for a moment and, after the air had cleared (sorry…) thought:
Hang on. This is complete bollocks. If people want to re-tweet compliments in a medium that’s designed for the sharing of information and in which people case choose whether to receive it or not, why the heck not??!
I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too.
Are we so despicable?
No, I think not, and here’s why: we self-employed types require food to prevent ourselves from dying. It’s shamefully demanding, I know, but there it is. And as if this weren’t diva-ish enough, we also need a place to live – I know! Those who are selfish enough to have children seem to feel it necessary to feed and clothe and provide beds for these offspring.
All of this self-indulgent ‘me, me, me’ requires money.
And in order to make money, we feeble, self-congratulating, trumpet blowing bottom-dwellers have to sell something. This can be anything – some old bits of carpet, little pot pourri bags we make on our free Sunday nights, our own mothers…anything really.
For those of us who write, the thing we’d ideally like to sell is our WORDS, and the best way to do this is to get someone to BUY these words.
And this is, as Lola might say, extremely, very, completely difficult.
Any writer reading this will know the drill, but for those out there who sensibly have what’s known as a Proper Job, involving pay cheques and sick leave and holidays and a stationery cupboard you can nick all your paper from, here’s how it goes:
first of all you write. And then you write some more. And then you write more and more and more and more and more and more, until you almost die of the dreaded Obsessive Writing Fever, which causes all your fingers to fall off and your soul to crumble to dust.
Luckily there is gin, and box sets of Mad Men.
When you’ve written enough to fill three houses, you throw 95% of it away, burn a further 3%, try to kill yourself because the last three years of your life have just been deleted or burned or pickled in gin, and then spend what money you don’t have left on the Writer’s And Artist’s Yearbook, and a fork-lift truck to get it home.
Then, having spent a weekend in Staples trying to get a teenager to print your lovely words onto A4 paper so that it doesn’t run off the edge of the page, and then done it all again because you forgot to make it double-spaced, and the again because you forgot to put your name on each page….you send what’s left of your scribblings to an agent.
Who then rejects it out of hand.
After a month in tears, you go out and get pissed with a good friend, who – very kindly – encourages you to Believe In Yourself, and Never Give up. So you pay for another few copies of your Killer Manuscript, and send it to another agent. And then another, and another and another.
Then you go back to Staples to buy a new filing cabinet, to house the tidal wave of rejection letters, which you hope one day to look at, wistfully, in your oak-panelled office in Hampstead, now that you are a hugely successful author. And so it goes on.
The point is that getting published is extremely hard these days. And making money out of writing is even harder. So if you do, finally, reach that glorious moment of seeing your book on a shelf, and – praise be! – receive a letter or a Tweet from a reader who actually LIKED it….OF COURSE you are going to tell everyone you know about it! Because the more people who know about it, the bigger the chance that you might sell a second copy. And then, as you hardly dare hope, a third.
Further book deals depend entirely on sales. So if one goes badly, you’re screwed, basically. And if it goes well, you could be looking at a second deal one day. Making this happen is not up publicists, PR people or sales teams, as might once have been the case. They certainly help, but these days it’s up to YOU to sell your wares.
You are your sales, marketing and advertising team. And places like Twitter are fab-u-lous, dahling, at raising awareness and meeting like-minded people, also shitting bricks that they may never see a paycheque again.
Of course, repeated re-tweeting and trumpet blowing can become annoying, and the idea with Twitter, as with real life, is not to piss people off. But SOME sharing of compliments, and messages of support is not only OK, it’s completely understandable. Just perhaps not if you are a hugely successful, highly paid journalist, living in Notting or Primrose or whatever other Hill these people all live in.
I’m not bitter, by the way. Not at all. I’m pleased for their success. Some of them even deserve it. (I think the writer of the cross-making tweets does, as it happens.)
But I just hope that one day, should I ever reach such great heights, I won’t forget what it was like to be starting out. To be so desperate for encouraging words, positive feedback and HOPE, that I would sink so low as to share with others when someone liked my books, in the hope that it might make someone else aware of what I write and go and buy one too.
So if you have good news, you go right ahead and share it, baby. I won’t find it ‘beyond ghastly’. My underarms won’t prickle with shame on your behalf. I will completely understand why you did it, be happy for your good news, and high five you from afar.
And, if it happens too often and starts to piss me off, I’ll discretely ‘unfollow’ you, rather than berating you and knocking your self-confidence with a cutting Tweet.
And hey, if you like this blog…Re-Tweet it. Share it. Big it up. And I’ll do the same for you. Because even though I’m lucky enough to have had three successful books published and be working on my fourth now, I’m still pretty near the bottom near rung of the ladder too…and we all need a leg-up sometimes.
See you at the top, folks 🙂
BIGGING UP SOME FOLKS
The point of social networking is not, I think, to criticise people for sharing their news, but to come together as a kind of weird, online, supportive, creative community. I’ve met some amazing people on Twitter. People I’ve come to think of as professional ‘friends’, and who may even one day become actually friends. Unless they’re psychos, in which case I might just run away very fast.
Some, though by no means all (I’ve had to omit LOADS, so I hope they forgive me) are:
@neversarah @karamina (who is going to be a famous author one day) @SCallejo @nettiewriter @UKPizzaLover (who doesn’t make pizzas) @DaddyNatal (who runs antenatal classes for Dads, in pubs – genius) @melliebuse @littlefishmusic (who are, quite simply EXTRAORDINARY, and also adorable, clever people) @cafebebe @rebeccaebrown @cambridgemummy @hughbon (yes, HIM. But you know, he does actually write back from time to time, which I think is rather lovely and not up-my-own-arse-ish) @writermels
Thank you all for the laughs, thoughts, and good Twitter spirit. May the sweet smell of success kiss your cheeks, and may you let us all know when that happens 🙂